Murray has mountain to climb to ever win Wimbledon again
For the first time in years, Andy Murray lost a tennis match at Wimbledon and people were not talking as if the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse were about to trample over the picnic rugs on The Hill.
A Wimbledon victory ought to be a lifelong free pass from such angst and nonsense, from any horse-whippings and character-assassinations Middle Britain might want to mete out. Here was something as rare as a British man holding up a golden trophy on the grass; the public, though disappointed, seeming to offer a calm and measured response to a Murray defeat. And, for Murray himself, this also wasn't the disaster to end all Centre Court disasters.
Had Murray retained the title he won last July, that second All England Club triumph wouldn't have felt as good as the first. And, since he is always going to have the summer of 2013, a defeat such as this one, to Bulgaria's Grigor Dimitrov in the quarter-finals, didn't have the same emotional impact as some of his previous 'failures'.
Certainly, he never came close to weeping into a microphone as he did after losing to Roger Federer in the 2012 final; that remains the most devastating defeat of his adventures on the grass. Whatever his Wimbledon future holds, Murray has already experienced his greatest high, and his biggest low, on these lawns. (And you could make the same point about his public.)
For a while on Wednesday, it appeared as though there was a chance that all of the Big Four of the men's game would lose before the semi-finals. Federer dropped the opening set of his all-Swiss quarter-final against Stan Wawrinka, and Novak Djokovic found himself trailing Croatia's Marin Cilic by two sets to one. But Federer came back to win in four sets, and Djokovic raised his level for a five-set victory. So Djokovic, the top seed, a former champion, last year's beaten finalist and now everyone's favourite for the title, went through to play Dimitrov, while Federer will play Milos Raonic.
Murray, though, hadn't earlier found a way to respond to Dimitrov - having reached the quarter-finals without anything so vulgar as dropping a set, the Briton was beaten in three. So Murray had an off-day on Centre Court. He didn't play anything like his best. Jimmy Connors thought it looked as though Murray was moving in mud. Nothing was firing.
That happens sometimes. Could Murray have been distracted by something that happened just before he went on court? According to reports emanating from the photographers' pit, there was a mid-match cry from Murray that appeared to suggest as much, with the Scot apparently shouting: "Five minutes before the f****** match."
But he didn't stalk off the court - instead he reminded Dimitrov that they had to bow to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, who were seated in the front row of the Royal Box. On his walk to the exit, he stopped to sign some autographs, and then later he was giving every indication of wanting to convert his part-time coaching arrangement with Amelie Mauresmo into a full-time partnership.
For all those who would like to see Murray win a second Wimbledon title, there is a greater concern than the quality of his performance against Dimitrov, and his coaching arrangements. And that is the emergence of the younger generation during this tournament. Dimitrov's reward for beating Murray was a first Wimbledon semi-final. And the 23-year-old's not the only young buck to have had a breakthrough Wimbledon.
Post-Becker, no teenager has introduced themselves to the Wimbledon galleries with as much theatre as Nick Kyrgios, a 19-year-old Australian wild card, did in blitzing Nadal in the fourth round. In his first Wimbledon quarter-final, played a day later, he met another new member of this tournament's Last Eight Club - Raonic, a 23-year-old Canadian who has a serve of great consistency and frightening power. It was Raonic who advanced to a first Wimbledon semi-final. Llike Dimitrov, he will also be making his first appearance in the last four of a major.
Next summer, and for every summer after that, this new generation are going to make it even harder for Murray to win another Wimbledon title. And it's not as if Djokovic, who is just a week apart in age from Murray, is about to disappear from view.
In some quarters, there had been concern about what would happen to men's tennis once the four big beasts fade, once Federer, Nadal, Djokovic and Murray have won their last slam. This Wimbledon has shown that there's no reason for anyone to be fretting about the future of men's tennis. The future is here now, and it's hoping to go to the Champions' Dinner this Sunday evening.
"These young guys are expecting to win," said Connors, who knows a thing or two about ambition.
It's not just that the young blades can hit a tennis ball. Something else they have in common is that they are not going to be intimidated. They will play their shots. They're not going to die wondering. It's going to be fascinating on Friday to see how they fare in their respective semi-finals. Especially as Djokovic is looking to win his first grand slam title for a year and a half - since the 2013 Australian Open - while a fair number of observers consider this to be Federer's last great opportunity to add to his 17 major titles. Federer's last slam title came here two years ago; win this tournament and he'll have a record eighth Wimbledon title.
Retaining a Wimbledon title the year after winning it for the first time is beyond most players. Only Bjorn Borg, Boris Becker, Pete Sampras and Federer have managed that. But now on to next year; Murray knows that he has to react to the younger generation.
"The younger guys are getting better," he said. Nadal lost to Kyrgios on Tuesday and then left for the beach. Murray lost to Dimitrov and it sounded as though he was heading for a practice court very soon. There's work to be done if he's ever going to touch that trophy again.
Mark Hodgkinson is the author of Lendl: The Man Who Made Murray and is writing daily pieces for ESPN during Wimbledon